Harrumph For Bush's Hollywood

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THERE WERE TIMES in recent weeks when sober Americans might

have felt they were being whipped into a state of hysteria more appropriate to

a Nuremberg rally than for a long, messy war on the illusive enemy of

terrorism.

This took the form of an unseemly obsession that if we don't keep chanting

how great America is, how great New York is, how great Rudy Giuliani is and how

masterfully George W. Bush has performed in his hour of crisis, we will cease

to believe it. After all, what did our enemies expect? And what did Americans

expect? That the congenitally combative Giuliani would collapse in a quivering

heap, that New Yorkers would abandon their city, give up their rent-stabilized

leases and home equity, that America would weary of the prospect of a war on

terrorism as interminable as the one in Vietnam and that Bush, sober all these

years, would lock himself in the Oval Office with a jug of Jim Beam? What sort

of people do they imagine we are?

Anyway, the White House has adopted a policy of keeping America "on

message" - of making sure every word the president utters is "coherent" and

measured. This is a policy his speechwriters have carried out brilliantly. But

there is a point at which patriotic one-liners repeated endlessly begin to

wander over the line that separates the coherent from the banal. Someone must

tell Bush his overuse of the term "evildoers" begins to sound like the chorus

of a porch full of censorious old biddies in rocking chairs passing judgment on

the virtue of passing floozies.

Meanwhile, Bush adviser Karl Rove met with Hollywood executives to enlist

them in a World War II-style propaganda offensive. What will come of this is

anybody's guess. Will gratuitous sex on the silver screen be cleverly used to

send a message that Americans are as virile as ever, or will we be treated to a

thriller in which anthrax wipes out Anaheim? Can Hollywood possibly re-create

the Mrs. Miniver era by substituting Tony Blair for Winston Churchill and

Madonna for Greer Garson? More likely, it will result in a puerile output of

gratuitous rubbish, cheaply made to show even heavily Democratic Hollywood has

climbed onto the Bush bandwagon.

It's all enough to give you the creeps, like somebody has a clammy hand on

our backbones to keep us from going wobbly. A White House spokesman said, "The

administration will share with studio executives the themes we're communicating

at home and abroad of patriotism, tolerance and courage." He almost makes it

sound like these are virtues decent Americans can't naturally feel without a

shove from Hollywood.

And speaking of anthrax, the FBI is floating theories that it may have been

spread by a single domestic terrorist - a sort of Timothy McVeigh with a PhD

in biology and a self-imagined sense of patriotism as perverse as McVeigh's

notion that he was making America safe for its David Koreshes. If so, this

would put him in a class with such corn- fed, domestically produced evildoers

as Theodore Kaczynski or the drooling fanatics who bomb abortion clinics.

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